Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Amazing Face

In a quick coda to my last entry about 2018 intake, I just wanted to share a few more of the amazing new faces I've been meeting as I traverse from school site to school site, making sure I have each student's details.

To clarify once again, these kids are just the newbies in the Standard One classrooms at Msaranga, Msandaka, Mnazi, and Kiboriloni Primary Schools.  They have not been tested yet - for the most part - although testing is underway.  So, there is nothing quantifying these students except for their undeniable cuteness and their individual personalities shining through.

Testing should be done around the end of March by which time, we will have some idea of who needs our help this year.  Then, as per usual, we'll do parent meetings and work out modified versions of an IEP for each child going forward.

Onward and upward!









Monday, March 12, 2018

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackboard

Greetings, dear readers, and many salaams from a fairly cool and cloudy Kilimanjaro.  I hope you've all been keeping well, wherever in the world you may be.

We've been awfully busy over here at The Toa Nafasi Project this month of March.  So much so that I've still not found time to post an entry about our excellent fifth anniversary celebration and now the recent International Women's Day festivities.  Bear with me as I negotiate these hectic days and do my best to prioritize all the things that need to get done!

The most pressing of all tasks at the moment is to complete the intake at our four participating schools sites in Moshi Municipal district, Kilimanjaro region: Msaranga, Msandaka, Mnazi, and Kiboriloni Primary Schools.

All four headmasters have been greeted and schmoozed.  Ditto all sixteen Standard One and Two teachers in the regular classrooms.  Nothing left to do but the job at hand: taking the names and photos of each child in the 2018 Standard One registry, and completing an observation form for each student, noting things like appearance, behavior, gross and fine motor skills, and of course, aptitude in basic literacy and numeracy.

We've done it many years before (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017), and we'll do it again now, but it's an awful lot of work and takes more than a bit of time.

Still, I love this sort of ripple before the full tide of the work sweeps over.  I get to see the kids for the first time and witness little glimpses into their minds and personalities.

Here are a few new faces from 2018.  I'm guessing each one of these little people has his or her own way of looking at the world.  Starting with the blackboard....

I. Eye

II. Tree

III. Winds

IV. One

V. Beauty

VI. Mood

VII. Imagine

VIII. Noble

IX. Sight

X. Flying

XI. Shadow

XII. River

XIII. Snow

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Momager Dearest

Some people have moms, some have managers, and some are lucky enough to have a two-in-one collabo - though I will concede that most of those people are noxious child stars!

While, yes, I am her child, and yes, she is my mom, Carla is oh-so-much more than that.

At 73 years strong, she is still globe-trotting, people-meeting, and plan-making.  A retired professor emerita; author of multiple books, papers, and articles; habitual conference-goer and recurrent conference-speaker; and most recently, recipient of a coveted Guggenheim fellowship, this woman has long been my heroine.

She is also a major pain in the neck.

Toa Nafasi started in 2012, and since Carla's retirement in 2015, she's been coming 'round these parts to make sure that I am doing MY job HER way!  Check out these past entries for more on my "Momager Dearest:"




And from the University of Maryland site: 

Honestly, though, I am lucky to have her, and really both of my parents, who support me and The Toa Nafasi Project tirelessly, even when I myself am so tired, I just wanna quit.

My dad, David, is more of a behind-the-scenes player, doing our legal work pro bono, sourcing accountants and auditors, and dealing with the dreaded IRS.

Meanwhile, Carla is center-stage, coming over once or twice a year to shake things up and remind everyone of the presence of the U.S. Board and their expectations: of what our objectives are, of what goals we've met, of where we've succeeded and where we've failed, and of course, of what in the heck we are doing with all our hard-raised donor money.  She is the representation of Toa's accountability to the folks back home, and she helps me to right the ship when the winds pick up.

She is also my best friend.

Here are some captioned photos from her most recent trip to Moshi, having just left last week.

With her original boyfriend, ma lumiere,
Headmaster Mlinga at Msandaka Primary School.

With her brand-new side piece,
Headmaster Makenga at Kiboriloni Primary School.

With the happiest man alive,
Headmaster Kijo at Mnazi Primary School.

Chowing down with my friends at our fifth anniversary celebration, blog post on that shinny to come.

Leading the conga line with the Toa tutors at the same event. 

Wearing my friend Ali's daughter Sadie's Valentine's Day bow.
I have no reasonable explanation for this.

Being gifted with a kikoi by Vumi's young daughter, Grace.

Being gifted YET AGAIN by the tutors at Msaranga Primary School on behalf of all the staff of The Toa Nafasi Project.
Until 2019, Momager wangu!

Monday, February 19, 2018

C4(H) - Pow!

Greetings, readers, and hope this blog post finds you all well.  I alluded in the last entry to the seminar that Carla and I attended earlier this month, and now I would like to expand a bit on what we learned....

Held at MS-TCDC, a training center for development cooperation located in beautiful Usa River, we conferenced amidst these colorful murals about African power and governance.  The grounds were also abundant with vibrant flora and, of course, there was that fabulous library which I wrote about last week (

Capacity 4 Humanity (C4H) was a conference dedicated to learning and capacity-building innovations in Africa.  It was put on by Humentum (, a group of young, international development professionals who met forty years ago at a workshop for financial managers in Washington, DC.  Realizing the common challenges they were facing, they began to share ideas and solutions, and created a support group to give each other advice.

Focused on networking, human resources, and advocacy, Humentum’s mission is to inspire and achieve operational excellence for those organizations working for positive social impact.  Their current membership is 350 organizations strong, offering 150 learning events in 20 countries this year alone.


The C4H conference held on February 7th and 8th, 2018 was one such event.

In partnership with ActionAid and with support from CIVICUS, Gateway Academy, Humanitarian Leadership Academy, and MS-TCDC, this conference provided a space for capacity-builders and thought leaders in East Africa to convene, collaborate, and learn from each other.

Sessions included topics such as: Instituting Behavior Change in Local Communities; Strengthening Capacities Among Responders and Humanitarian Organizations; How to Create an Organizational Learning Culture; Fostering a Work Environment Conducive to Learning Transfer; How Organizational Learning Will Make Stronger, Happier Staff; and, Valuing Local Perspectives: Lessons Learned from Participatory Reflection and Review Process. 


The keynote speaker was Adriano Campolina, General Secretary of ActionAid International.  Even if he had not said it, Carla would have identified him as Brazilian, given his implicit reliance on Paolo Freire's The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  The key term for both of them is "oppression."


According to Adriano, we need new approaches to capacity-building given current global trends such as climate change, the rise of right-wing politics, joblessness, disputes over natural resources,  but most especially the erosion of humanitarian values in the public arena. 


Thus, we need to: a) begin by reading the context of oppression; b) find ways to empower local communities, working on the premise that knowledge comes from both within and without; and, c) develop strategic actions that would include consciousness-raising, economic empowerment, building alliances, and solidarity movements.  Most specifically, we need to be aware of the gap that exists between national policies on the one hand and programs of the local level on the other, and find a way to integrate them. 


"Capacity-building" is defined as the "process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes, and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in a fast-changing world."  Specifically, in relation to NGOs, capacity-building encompasses "actions that improve non-profit effectiveness," in terms of organizational and financial stability, program quality, and growth.

One of the conference-goers, a French woman named Victoria Fontan, told us how contested this term actually is.  Initially, it was invoked from a neo-colonial perspective to indicate that the West was bringing its "vastly superior" capacity-building knowledge to help former colonial populations.  More recently, local native communities have been fighting back, insisting on their own specialized knowledge of local needs and capacity to build.  There is currently a struggle between these two opposing points of view. 


Victoria is the author of Decolonizing Peace, available in both English and Kiswahili.  Victoria says, "Decolonizing Peace offers a vivid critique of what I refer to as the "peace industry" and the neo-colonial Northern addiction to helping, hence infantilizing, the Global South.  The book looks at social complex adaptive systems for peace which do not rely on Northern funds, or well-meaning peace missionaries.  I use chaos theory, cybernetics, and panarchy as post-Cartesian lenses to analyze the sustainablity and resilience of local peace initiatives."


This got Carla and me to thinking about the instability of power within organizations, including our own The Toa Nafasi Project.  The director (me) and board (her) ostensibly have power since Toa is "our" organization.  But power may also shift to local authorities who may impose their own rules (define who is and who is not a "teacher" or a "professional") or to the staff who may accept or refuse to do the work.  So it would seem important to recognize these different forms of power and to try to balance them out.

I think we are on the way to doing that now.  Our "teachers" are on the right track though they may not have the necessary qualifications or certificates that local government authorities would like.  However, the training Toa provides them and the benefits they receive have professionalized them.  To a certain extent, even more than the government-employed teachers. 

Our administrative/managerial staff takes a back seat to the work of these professionalized, capacity-built native women, so that Adriano's main point of empowering the local community and providing services on-the-ground while still balancing the needs and wants of the central government and trying to effect policy change is a part of Toa's agenda. 

It's a lot to process, and even more to think about and realize into action.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

To borrow the phrase from Papa Hemingway seems a fitting manner in which to describe this stellar library where I had the pleasure of spending two full days in peaceful contentment last week.  Well, maybe not "contentment" per se as I was preparing Toa Nafasi financial statements both for the GoT and the IRS.  But still, what a lovely, lovely place to work!

Carla and I traveled to Usa River for the Humentum "Capacity 4 Humanity" conference and, while she and Gasto conferenced (I gave up my spot, thinking it would be better to have one Tanzanian and one Westerner attend than us two, who are not only both Westerners, but practically share the same mind), I settled in to do this other necessary work.

I'll be writing up a blog entry about the conference based on Carla and Gasto's notes in a few, but until then, I will longingly remember this fantastic facility on the MS-TCDC grounds located about two-thirds of the way to Arusha.  Bonus points to the staff for the nearby and spotless toilets, and for making me feel safe enough to leave all my work and gadgets on the table.

It's not often that one finds a clean, well-lighted space in which to work uninterrupted and unfettered in Tanzania, so if I'm ever again in need of peace and quiet to get a task done, I will definitely remember to make the trip to Usa.

It's just too bad that there aren't more of these facilities in Moshi and Arusha, for both adults and kids to enjoy.  Especially for schoolchildren in the villages, a good workspace is hard to find and part of the problem when it comes to completing homework assignments or practicing exercises.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Zee End of Zee Day

Back in Moshi and back at work, same as it ever was.

However, I have a good feeling about this year; something feels fresh and clean, bright and shiny.  Maybe it's me, maybe it's TeeZee, I guess we'll have to wait and see....

All right, enough with my Dr. Seuss rhymes and on to this post, which are just some short videos from school, specifically Msandaka.

Carla (best friend, momager, and board member extraordinaire) arrived on Thursday, February 1st and after getting her situated, we started off this new week by passing by each participating Toa school site (there are four of them these days, if you recall: Msaranga, Msandaka, Mnazi, and Kiboriloni) to pay our respects to the headmasters and teachers employed by the government, greet the Toa tutors at each site, and generally just make sure all is well in the world.

While Carla was reuniting with her fave HM, Mr. Mlinga, speaker of French and lover of light ("ma lumiere," you'll recall from this entry:, I waited outside on the baraza to greet the tiny tots of 2018 as they ran off from their lessons and headed for home.

Vumi used to call this time "zee end of zee day" in her Tanzanian accent.

She rarely spoke English, but when she did, I would tease her mercilessly.  After all, it was she who basically forced me to learn Swahili, so teasing was my payback for all the hard work she put me through.

Hyasinta and I still say the phrase, and I still tease.  Although now the teasing goes both ways, since I'm old and forgetful now and Hyasinta has come out of her shell and loves to give me a good ribbing.  ("Sarah, wewe....")

Vumi would be proud.  Of both of us.

Much, much more to come as the year unfolds, so please.... stay tuned!

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Parent Trap

On my last night in New York for the foreseeable future, I leave you with this article from the Citizen.  It concerns parental contributions to students' tuition and other school fees despite President Magufuli's "free education" policy.

Knowing firsthand, as many of us do, that this policy does not NEARLY cover the costs associated with sending a youngster to school, I am squarely on the side of the parents.

If their kids are not getting services or materials for free, OF COURSE they should feel it their parental duty to top up the nation's "freebie" policy.  We all know that "free education" does not truthfully exist and I applaud those parents who give a sh*t to help their kids succeed in very difficult learning environments.

Next time I write, kiddies, it'll be from the flip side.  Check ya laterz!


Tanzania: Mixed Views Greet Order On Contributions 

The decision by President John Magufuli to ban all forms of contributions by parents with children in primary and secondary schools has been received with mixed feelings.

The government issued Circular Number 5 in 2015 on the implementation of the 2014 Education and Training Policy, directing all public institutions to ensure that education is free in primary and secondary schools.

But President John Magufuli noted with concern last week that the policy had not been fully adhered to.

The President directed the Education, Science, Technology, and Vocational Training Minister, Professor Joyce Ndalichako, and her counterpart in the President's Office (Regional Administration and Local Government), Mr. Selemani Jafo, to ensure that the circular was respected.

Speaking to the Citizen, a headmaster at a public secondary school, who preferred not to be named due to the nature of subject, said although the free education policy was a good thing, it was also important to note that schools may suffer because the government does not provide everything needed.

Professor George Mtalemwa of the University of Dar es Salaam said the President's directives "are very positive" and that what was required was mutual understanding among parents, schools, and the government.

"No school will prosper by depending on the government's money. On some occasions support from parents is significant," he said.